Dramatic ending to Ballina infanticide case
A view of Garden Street in Ballina where the bodies of the two dead infants were discovered in May. Photo: National Library of Ireland, LROY 07404

Dramatic ending to Ballina infanticide case

Published: 19 July 1913

Mr. Justice Gibson, at the Mayo Assizes this week, sentenced Mrs. McDonagh, a publican of Garden Street, Ballina, to fourteen months imprisonment with hard labour for concealing the bodies of her dead infant children between the mattresses of her bed.

Mrs. McDonagh had previously been charged with the murder of two new-born children, but the state had not proceeded with the case. The case had disclosed in considerable detail the manner in which the children had been killed and concealed. No defence was offered, although Mrs. McDonagh pleaded not guilty. In his summation of the case, Mr. Justice Gibson had said that it had been proved to the hilt that 'the unfortunate woman in the dock was guilty of this atrocious, unhuman, unchristian and terrible crime of murdering her own offspring.'

He concluded that the guilty woman was 'a disgrace to her dead husband, herself and her children. The case went to the root of family morality and the story of how she slept on the dead bodies of her children made one’s blood run cold.'

After the jury had discussed the matter for half an hour, they returned and the foreman said that they had been unable to agree and would be unable to agree. Mr. Justice Gibson condemned the jury for their actions and said that he would advise that the case be reheard at a different location. At this point, Mrs McDonagh – after consultation with her solicitor – changed her plea to guilty.

In sentencing the prisoner to fourteen months with hard labour, Mr. Justice Gibson said that he was being lenient on account of the manner in which the woman’s life was now ruined and that she had three other children to care for.

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